My parents eat four meals a day at a set time; even when five-ton bombs are landing everywhere, the schedule is respected. At four o’clock they eat fruits, puddings and pastries; I saw my mother consuming supermarket puddings filled with sugar and additives. Shou? Quoi? I will not allow it! So I made this using some homemade mulberry syrup and my conscience was at rest.
Mulberry is one fruit that I think everyone should taste before they die. Lebanon used to produce silk a couple of centuries ago and mulberry trees were grown by the thousands. Mulberry leaves were part of the silk-producing chain. France (Lyon) and Lebanon had an ongoing silk trade. That was the reason behind Lebanese folks speaking French as my dad likes to point out frequently.
Today, the mulberry tree that is grown is the one that bears fruit. Every Lebanese will admit to stealing mulberries from a neighbor’s tree; the best ones are the purple ones. Most people who own a mulberry tree will gather the berries and make a syrup; the syrup will keep for a long time and if you pay someone a visit, it is customary to be offered some mulberry juice made with this syrup. (for a detailed explanation on how the syrup is made, check Beth’s Dirty Kitchen Secrets); it is posted as sharab al-toot (mulberry drink)
I read in Chef Ramzi’s The Culinary Heritage of Lebanon that country folks even make a pudding similar to a milk pudding or muhallabiyeh with the mulberry syrup, called tootiyeh (toot is the Arabic word for mulberry). Bottles labeled “toot syrup” ( syrop de mures) in middle-eastern grocery stores are often deceiving and what one gets instead is blackberry syrup, which is a far cry from the real thing.
INGREDIENTS: To make 4 servings
- 5 ounces mulberry syrup (can substitute rose syrup or blackberry )
- 2 tablespoons cornflour or cornstarch
- 3 tablespoons water to dilute the starch in
- Pour the syrup into a measuring cup. Add enough hot water to measure 1 1/2 cups.
- Dilute the cornflour into the 3 tablespoons of water in a small bowl.
- Heat the syrup and water mixture and when it starts to steam add the cornstarch mixture stirring constantly for a few minutes until thickened.
- Pour through a strainer into the measuring cup. Pour into individual servings dishes and let cool.
- 1 1/2 cups of milk ( or better yet, half milk half cream)
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 2 tablespoons of cornflour or cornstarch
- 3 tablespoons of water
- 1 teaspoon of rose water, 1 teaspoon of orange blossom water
- Dilute the cornstarch in the 3 tablespoons of water in a small bowl
- Heat the milk and cream until steam appears; add the sugar and add the cornstarch mixture.
- Stir constantly for a few minutes until thickened. Add the flavorings.
- Strain into a measuring cup. Pour into individual bowls using a large spoon, one spoonful at a time, on top of the mulberry pudding.
- Decorate with half a loukoum, or whatever else you you wish.
I just spent one hour this morning with Muallem Philippe, a man who personifies the old-fashioned and seasoned farmer. He lives in Fawwara, a village in the Shouf region and oversees several orchards ours among them. I was asking him about the possibility of growing mulberries commercially in Lebanon. His answer was: My dear lady, it has taken this mulberry tree (on our property) nine years to bear some fruit. Most of it was eaten by the birds. To grow this variety of mulberry tree (called al-toot al-shamee) is an uphill struggle: In short, forget it! Besides, producers are cheating all the time, adding fake mulberry and (or) rose essences to their syrup.